There's nothing like putting money back into your own community, especially when we're supporting the special talent of our very own. For accessories, and now handbag designer, Melanie Marie, the support of Black women has helped her build a brand that is expanding, moment after moment. Read along to find out what it's like being a young designer on the come up. 

EBONY: What is it really like being a designer in your 20s? Give me the honest to God truth.

Melanie Marie: Honestly, it’s exciting, thrilling and you never know what to expect. I actually enjoy myself on a daily basis so much! I think society has changed their views on having a traditional career, and they’re accepting that people in their 20s are branching off to jobs they’ve create utilizing their talents. People support it more.

When I first started, my mom was skeptical and told me to get a job that was secure and has benefits. No one understood these type jobs years ago. I am still young, so I get to enjoy life to the fullest while still putting in work. One day I may be home in NY, and the next I can be in Vegas. The flexibility is amazing and I love it. As I type this, I am on a plane headed to Atlanta for an event my line is a part of.

On the designing end, I always have to stay creative and ahead of the curve because there is so much competition out there. I just make sure I come up with new ideas all the time and treat all my customers’ great so they want to come back.

EBONY: How has being a Black woman helped (or hindered) your brand’s growth?

MM: When I first started, two of the first publications I was featured in were Essence and Upscale magazine. So at first, the majority of my customer base was Black. I would say being a Black woman has helped. I notice that most African-Americans like to keep their money in the community, so that worked well for me. I am also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. The support I get from my sorority was huge as well. Once my sorors found out I was a Delta, they definitely wanted to support.

EBONY: Tell us your brief back story, and why designing accessories (and now handbags) has becoming your business of choice.

MM: I have always loved fashion! My grandmother is very stylish and has the best clothes and shoes. She told me when she was younger she attended a lot of dinner parties for which everyone had to dress up. She has so many great vintage finds. My love for designing started when I would take a lot of her old accessories that were broken or missing pieces and add little things to them to bring them back to life. I really got serious about it in college, to the point where I knew I wanted to have my own business.

EBONY: What’s the actual process of designing your pieces? Do you sketch and design? What part of the grunt work do you source out and do yourself?

MM: When it comes to my handbags, I have to draw my designs. Once I draw the designs, I must next choose the material and hardware. I have a manufacturer I work with that actually makes my designs come to life. With the accessories, it’s basically the same. Some items I have are wholesale items. But I make the custom items myself.

EBONY: In one or two sentences, describe what this journey of owning your own business as been like.

MM: Owning my own business has been challenging, rewarding and very educational! I have learned so much over the five years I have been in business, and I believe with all my knowledge and wisdom, I am prepared for any obstacle.

—Melanie Yvette Martin